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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Suspended community: An ethnographic study of Palestinian -Americans in New York and New Jersey
by Serhan, Randa Bassem, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2009, 313; 3393602
Abstract (Summary)

West Bank Palestinian immigrants to the United States transitioned from economic immigrants to exiles in the aftermath of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. A portion of these exiles established a community across parts of New York and New Jersey. Despite being economically integrated, the community continues to identify itself as exiles into the second generation longing for a Palestinian state in their ancestral home. Tensions exist for this immigrant group that believes the United States, through its support of Israel in its foreign policy, is partially responsible for their continued exile. Yet, the United States is place they were granted rights, citizenship, and their children call “our country.” Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2001-2007, the social networks, everyday lives, and personal narratives of Palestinian-Americans are documented and analyzed to trace the processes by which a sense of exile is fostered among the second-generation of American-born Palestinians without compromising their sense of being American. This dissertation argues that the duality of attachments to being Palestinian and American is mutually reinforcing. Being the “other” at Israeli borders and checkpoints and in the United States after the 9/11-backlash set the environment in which Palestinian-Americans have found it necessary to fight to affirm both aspects of their status and identity. Nonetheless, the dissertation argues against the notion of “reactive ethnicity,” whereby Palestinian-Americans only feel as such because of the obstacles and political barriers they face. An alternative perspective is proposed based on Charles Tilly's conceptualization of “trust networks.” Despite their name, trust networks are based on the amount of risk involved in maintaining the group's cohesion. For Palestinian-Americans, the costs involved in remaining together are much higher than disbanding, yet they resist. This dissertation identifies three primary mechanisms that build boundaries around the community from within and in the process produce its dual identification, namely: surveillance and gossip, financial transaction, and competition. Ultimately, exile is demonstrated to be a set of practices instead of an exclusive psychological state, which in turn allows for other identifications, even seemingly contradictory ones, to co-exist.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Eyal, Gil
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Ethnic studies
Keywords: Arab-Americans, Assimilation, Exile, New Jersey, New York, Palestinian-Americans
Publication Number: 3393602
ISBN: 978-1-109-60477-1
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